The war in Iraq has raised several issues; the most important is the legitimacy of the war itself and the implications for international law.
International Law remains relevant and would continue to be so. Laws seem to be unequally applied; the weak tend to follow while the strong get away with it. However the very fact that the U.S tried hard to legitimize its unilateral action, rather unsuccessfully proves the importance of international law as a vehicle of powerful states to carry out their objectives.
Laws are routinely manipulated, the P-5 use for their benefit but gross violations do not go down well both at home and abroad. People know that their countries themselves were founded on the basis of law, it is rules that make them what they are, and a violation of rules does not befit them, it questions the core of their own identity. The irreparable damage to reputation is a very effective deterrent to the violation of International law.
Iraq became a victim of “Fear” and “likelihood”. The September 11 global crisis left people shocked and compelled policy makers to act. They made errors in judgment. The U.S failed in the mission it set out for. It was viewed as unreasonable aggressors. It left a deep dent and the global moral voice-U.N. was sidelined. The war may have had a different outcome had it followed international law. Apart from legitimacy and goodwill, there would have been more partners and resources. However had the Iraq war been a unilateral success and if weapons of mass destruction were found, it is possible that the U.N would thank U.S for its actions in promoting world peace. This could have set a trend for the violation of international law. U.S failure in Iraq has set the trend for complying with the International law. The current efforts seeking the authorization of Security Council for the no fly zone in Libya demonstrates this aptly.
Iraq was a sorrowful exception and as exception cannot be the norm, hence the world will follow the customary rules. Accepted practices, customs make International law and these have been upheld most of the times, it is their willful practice by majority countries and not its enforcement that gives confidence that International law is relevant. This is the power of “dominant opinion” as suggested by Tucker and Hendrickson.
As the democratic process in the world moves at great speeds, the Middle-East uprisings, the current Libyan crisis, all put local people in focus, there is no better time than now to see international law nurture.
One of the fundamental issues that need more attention is the language on which international law is based. These can be grounds of flimsy escape by aggressive nations. Language must portray the light of the day and changing circumstances. If there is a better understanding on the meaning of agreed terms in a today’s very different world, threatened by new age warfare than there is a far better probability of them being upheld, for e.g. the meaning of “armed attack” has changed dramatically since the UN charter was made. The relevance sticks as long as the word and spirit is understood by all.
The final reason why International law’s relevance would be more pronounced in the future is due to changing power dynamics and the rise of economic might of the B.R.I.C.S. More countries will abide by international law since the probability of undertaking “invasive exceptions” that formerly belonged squarely to the super powers may gradually move to new nations reflecting the shift of the balance of economic and political power.